My favorite quote from a Yogi Tea Bag said “If you want to learn something, read. If you want to understand something, write. If you want to master something, teach.” I saw this quote several summers ago, and it really hit a nerve. Suddenly, it became clear that teaching made me more skilled as a musician than any other practice. In order to understand a musical concept, I could not simply feel it like I normally do, and hope the student would understand. I had to grasp it from every direction. Teaching well means having the ability to explain a difficult concept in a manner that makes it appear easy.
In the beginning of my teaching, I stayed away from teaching Jazz because I did not have any training in this genre. Last year, I became very curious about Jazz and started practicing on my own. Just a standard here and there, as well as some Jazz method book learning. I also began listening to a lot of old Jazz greats like Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday. It seemed scary, but I decided to try testing out the old Yogi Tea wisdom, and I started assigning Jazz pieces to my students and teaching them how to improvise. I may not be a master of Jazz, but I am certainly much better that I was last year, and my students have proven that I am doing a good job.
It doesn’t stop at genres either. This year I felt I needed to work on my own focus, discipline, and attention to detail, as well as tame the inner critic in my head. I started emphasizing these traits in my students and we have all greatly improved. Have you tried this approach? Do you find you are getting better right along side your students?